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Works for clarinet by Gergely Vajda on a new CD
Three compositions by Gergely Vajda, Clarinet Symphony for two clarinets and orchestra, Alice Études for clarinet and string quartet, and Persistent Dreams for solo clarinet, have been recorded on a new CD, released by the Budapest Music Center Records. This offered the occasion to ask Gergely Vajda about his versatility.
Clarinettist, composer, conductor – you have all these in your biography. Which is your priority order of these three “c”-s?
I don’t want to offend conductors or instrumentalists but I think creating something from nothing is probably the “king” of all activities, that’s how you can get closest to “Creation” as a human being. If you have the calling for being a composer that should be number one in your life. Performers have to work with the material they get from the composer. I quite often conduct my own works, and then I’m trying to translate my own music into practical terms, to bring it to life.
On your new CD, labelled as Clarinet Symphony, you have works written for clarinet or clarinets and other instruments. Do you feel more at home if you write for your own instrument compared to writing for other instruments?
There is always a point when I remember the physical connections. I don’t compose with my clarinet in hand. Back in the days, twenty-five years ago, when I wrote my very first solo piece, Lightshadow-trembling, I did just that. But these newer pieces were written without, just working in front of the computer screen. The memory of the physical contact, the vibration of the sound, is, however, definitely there, more in case of the clarinet than with other instruments.
Alice Études is a paradoxical piece: On one hand, you find a quotation from Lewis Carroll’s book in every movement, so one would expect it to be program music. On the other hand, it is a series of études for a quintet with clarinet. How would you define the relationship of these two terms?
Études are my meditations based on how I’m reading Alice. The short texts that go with each étude work as inspiration; they all trigger something musical. And that’s how études come in: something is moving, and then you do something with that material. These are études not in the technical sense but on different sounds of the ensemble of a clarinet and a string quartet. As a clarinetist I’ve played a huge classical repertoire and a lot of modern music, so I can say: Schumann didn’t necessarily care about the difference between oboe and clarinet, thus his Fanatasiestücke can be played on both instruments or even on viola. But other composers, like Mozart or Brahms, did really get into the soul of the clarinet. Mozart had an immediate sound in his head, as you can see it also in his operas where clarinet or basset horn goes with certain types and characters. And that’s what I was trying to get in Alice Études: The clarinet is somehow “Alice-y” for me, so I could experiment with the clarinet being Alice in this setup. And because the clarinet can blend with different string combinations and yet there is always a contrast between clarinet and strings, the most interesting for me was how I can mix this sounds in each etude in a different way, at the same time keeping a unity of the composition.